So here we are: This is it.
I should have asked earlier; do you want an epigraph? Only one?
Knock yourself out: “It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams.” —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
“All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.” —Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”
“In truth the way matters but little; the will to arrive suffices.” —Ibid
“This, to use an American term, in which discovery, retribution, torture, death, eternity appear in the shape of a regularly repulsive nutshell, was it.” —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Those last two sound familiar: There are only so many that work that well for a Super Bowl.
Are you at least excited for this one? Obviously. But two weeks is still too long. This game needs to be played the week after the championship games.
But a week’s too short! Play the game on Wednesday!
Let’s dispense of the formalities and get right to it:
#2 BALTIMORE AT #1 NEW ENGLAND
You ready to get Gronked? That sounds disgusting.
What percentage of Patriots fans have worked the verb “Gronk” into their regular vocabulary? I haven’t heard it yet, but I assume 100. “Gronk,” interestingly enough, is almost always modified by the adverb “totally” and takes the direct object “workout.”
Now seriously, can the Ravens stop Rob Gronkowski? I wouldn’t frame the question that way. Stopping the Patriots isn’t about stopping any one of their wide receivers/tight ends (and like, what’s the difference; we can even throw running back into that slash line) so much as it is about stopping Tom Brady. How does one stop Tom Brady? You get pressure on him, obviously.
The defining sports game of this decade occurred at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 3, 2008. That night, in a game that moved about as quickly as the clock in Tecmo Super Bowl, the New York Giants upset the unbeaten New England Patriots, 17-14, to win Super Bowl XLII.
It is debatable whether Super Bowl XLII is the single best game across sports in the Aughts; however, it is almost certainly the game that crystallizes the two competing movements in sports this decade: the quest for historical transcendence and the ascension of the postseason underdog.
Sports are too broad and diverse a subject to write a coherent essay that addresses what happened in the Aughts. Too much happened to be melded into a sustainable theme or argument. And although for many the story of the Aughts is what occurred off the field—be it scandals surrounding performance-enhancing drugs, referees, or personal conduct—to me, the defining narrative of sports in the Aughts is of those two competitors in Super Bowl XLII: the unbeaten Patriots and the pedestrian Giants.
Opposite the NBA and MLB, the NFL had an amazing decade. Whereas those sports combined to produce three Game 7s in 20 championship series, the NFL saw five Super Bowls come down to the final two minutes. It avoided major scandals while providing us with a likable upstart turned detestable villain, one of the best rivalries the sport has ever seen, featuring two historically transcendent players at the game’s most important position. Oh, and it cleaned up its logo.
It might even be the Golden Age of the NFL.
As for my list, you’ll notice that the common theme uniting all 10 games is fourth-quarter drama. And not like, one-team-drives-for-one-late-TD-to-win drama, but back-and-forth-for-all-15-minutes-with-multiple-scores drama. And even having that high standard and far fewer games to choose from than in the other sports, I had to make some tough cuts. The final ones included the Steelers’ comeback win over the Browns on Wild Card Weekend in 2002 (the same day as a game that made our countdown), the Steelers’ upset of the Colts in the 2005 Divisional Playoffs, and the Colts’ incredible fourth-quarter comeback on Monday Night against the Buccaneers in 2003.
On the other end of the spectrum, the worst game of the decade was Super Bowl XXXVII, the Buccaneers’ 48-21 romp over the Raiders. If you don’t know why, you’re a Bucs’ fan.
10. 2000 Regular Season: New York Jets 40, Miami Dolphins 37 (OT)
“But of course you must remember, fans, the turning points in our history are not always so grand as they are cracked up to be in the murals on your post office wall.”
—The Great American Novel
I’m struck by some parallel notions after two weeks of the NFL season. The first combines the fact that Eli Manning again showed why he might be the best “last 4:00 of a game” quarterback in the league* on Sunday night in a huge game against the Cowboys with the fact that the Giants play the Buccaneers this upcoming Sunday. You see, it was in Tampa two seasons ago that Manning led the Giants to his first playoff win—a victory that at the time was unremarkable and seemingly insignificant (in a big picture sense). But it was the turning point, for Manning went on of course for three more playoff wins in 2007 and has been one of the league’s 10 best quarterbacks since.
*And I’m serious on this. Outside of his brother, I don’t know if anyone is really close. Brady failed on Sunday in the final minutes, and his greatest late comeback drives involved 1) The Tuck Rule; and 2) His team recovering a fumble after he threw an interception on 4th down (in San Diego in 2006). Brees has never done it in a big spot, McNabb is terrible in the 2:00 drill, Warner always scores too quickly (THREE times in the Super Bowl he’s scored too quickly), Rivers hasn’t done it, Roethlisberger has the Super Bowl drive but little else.